Category: Teen

March: Book 3 by John Lewis


March: Book 3 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (InfoSoup)

This is the final book in this amazing graphic novel trilogy. Congressman John Lewis concludes his story of the Civil Rights marches, providing real context to the Black Lives Matter movement of today. This book begins with the bombing of the church in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four young girls. It shows the fight for the ability to vote in Alabama for African Americans who were forced to take tests or just ignored as they tried to register to vote. The book culminates with the march in Selma and the violence that accompanied it and most importantly the changes it created.

I can’t say enough good things about this series. It brings critical Civil Rights history directly to teens in a format that is engaging. There is no way to turn away from the violence of the response of those in power as blood flows in the images on the pages. It makes it all the more powerful that the marches stayed nonviolent and focused on pacifism. Lewis himself voices again and again how much pressure there was at times in the movement to react more violently and how that was managed by himself and others. It is a testament to people willing to put their own bodies and lives at risk for progress.

The illustrations are riveting. Done in black and white, they effectively play darkness and light against one another, adding to the drama of the situations they depict. At times they are haunting and blaze with tragedy. The opening scenes of the Birmingham church are filled with tension and sadness that make it difficult to turn the pages and witness what happens.

These are the books our teens need right now. Every public library should have this series, no matter what races are represented in your community. This is our shared history and one that we cannot deny or turn away from. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from library copy.



The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis


The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis (InfoSoup)

Alex has never been the same since her older sister was murdered three years earlier. She finally started to feel something when her sister’s killer went free. Alex’s response to that was vengeance and murder and now Alex knows that she can’t ever leave the small town she has grown up in since it would not be safe for those around her. She just wants to go through the rest of her life with her head down and not be noticed. Inadvertently though, she starts to make a friend. Peekay, short for Preacher’s Kid, volunteers at the animal shelter with Alex and slowly they become friends. Peekay enjoys drinking and fooling around and brings Alex into a social group where she had never belonged before. Meanwhile, Jack is finding it impossible to keep Alex out of his head despite the attentions of another girl who uses him on the side of her own relationship. Still, Alex may have been better off isolated as her violence starts to emerge again.

Wowza. This book blew me away from the aspects of both content and writing. McGinnis writes with a beauty that is surprising and enticing. Her words capture emotions with an intensity that has the reader feeling them at a visceral level. Here is Alex in Chapter 11 describing losing her sister:

It swings from twine embedded so deeply that my aorta has grown around it. Blood pulses past rope in the chambers of my heart, dragging away tiny fibers until my whole body is suffused and pain is all I am and ever can be.

McGinnis keeps her writing filled with tension, desire, understanding and amazement. She recognizes the incredible need for connection that we have even as we destroy as well. This is humanity on the page in all of its complexity.

It is also feminism, a feminism that burns and blazes, one that looks beyond makeup and clothing to the women and girls underneath. It is a feminism that speaks to the anger inside that wants to fight and battle the darkness in society, the brutality against women and the dangers that surround girls. And because it speaks clearly to that anger, it is breathtaking in its audaciousness, in the actions that Alex takes, and the bravery and violence she embodies.

Violent and beautiful, this novel is about the complexities of being female and alive. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley received from HarperCollins and Edelweiss.


Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands


Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands (InfoSoup)

This is the second book in the Blackthorn Key Adventure series. Christopher Rowe survived his first adventure but now London has been hit by the Black Death, with thousands dying every week. As a young apothecary apprentice with no master, he is barely making ends meet since he is not allowed to sell any cures. Christopher discovers that his master left him some treasure, but first he must follow the clues to it and unravel the codes that it is in. Meanwhile, Christopher’s workshop is broken into yet nothing is taken. As the plague worsens, news of a prophet who can predict who will die from the plague arrives as well as an apothecary who claims to have a cure that truly works. As Christopher tries to puzzle through his master’s clues, he is also drawn into a dangerous situation of plague, death and lies.

I enjoyed the first book in this series with its 17th century London setting, the details of the apothecary trade and the focus on codes and secrecy. This second book in the series continues what I enjoyed so much about the first as well as continuing the broad humor that Sands use to offset the darkness of the subject matter. Still, this second book does have a one sophomore issue where the plot drags in the middle as the codes are working on being solved and the true nature of some of the characters are about to be revealed.

Some of the best characters from the first book reappear while new characters emerge as well. One of the most enjoyable new characters is Sally, an orphan who has escaped the orphanage due to the plague. Once again, people in poverty and orphans are shown as those with strong characters. Sally herself proves herself to be brave and strong immediately when we meet her, then she also shows how very useful she can be. It is her resilience that is remarkable, mirroring what readers will have seen in both Christopher and his best friend Tom.

A worthy second title in this winning series, take a journey into plague-ridden London for an adventure filled with humor and heroism. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from ARC received from Aladdin Books.


Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick

Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick

Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick (InfoSoup)

Claire isn’t having a good year. She is being teased at school by not only a mean girl but by a boy who has been picking on her for years. She loves her dance classes, but her friends are moved into high school classes while she is left behind with the little kids. Her brother is perfect in every way, so Claire has to disappoint all of the teachers that had him once they see her work. Then Claire’s life really turns upside down and sideways when her father collapses at home. Claire is the only one there and has to call 911 and get him help, riding along in the ambulance. Suddenly the father who was always dancing, singing and joking can’t do any of those things anymore. As Claire’s life really starts to fall apart, Claire has to figure out how to see the humor in it all again for both herself and her family.

Sonnenblick has returned with another of his amazing teen novels. As always, it is written with incredible skill. He manages to take tragic scenes and make them very funny, even those in emergency rooms. He also takes great moments of humor and gives them incredible heart as well. Throughout, there are tears and laughter that mix in the best possible way. The writing is intelligent and screamingly funny, giving readers the chance to see the humor in it all long before Claire realizes that it is still OK to laugh.

Claire is a very human protagonist with her own sense of humor and ability to laugh at herself. She is also flawed, sometimes self involved and other times seeming to be selfish just because she is protecting herself from hurt. Her relationships with family and friends are richly drawn in the novel, including those with people she is figuring out how to deal with. While things aren’t magically fixed (thank goodness) Claire herself manages to solve many of the problems herself.

A pure joy of a novel filled with pathos, tears and lots of laughter. Appropriate for ages 11-15.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.


Scottish Teenage Book Prize

The inaugural year of the Scottish Teenage Book Prize has three books up for the honor. The prize is run by the Scottish Book Trust with support from Creative Scotland. £500 goes to each shortlisted book and then the winner receives £3000. The winner is selected via a vote by children aged 12-16 across Scotland.

Here are the shortlisted titles:

The Last Soldier Black Cairn Point Silver Skin

The Last Soldier by Keith Gray

Black Cairn Point by Claire McFall

Silver Skin by Joan Lennon

Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy

Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy

Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy (InfoSoup)

NASA has called on Yuri, a 17-year-old physics prodigy from Russia, to help save the earth, literally. An asteroid is heading on a path that will directly impact earth in the next few weeks. Yuri joins the team of adults who don’t really listen to him. Yuri’s own research into antimatter has not yet been published, though he expects it to win him the Nobel Prize. Meanwhile, Yuri meets Dovie, a teenage girl who has the life that Yuri never lived. Her hippie family is warm and wonderful, despite many horrible culinary experiments. Despite his focus on the asteroid, Yuri finds himself drawn to Dovie and her American teenage experiences. As Yuri works, he also discovers that the Americans intend to force him to stay, rather than allowing him to return to Russia. Now Yuri has to deal with the asteroid, escaping NASA and teenage love.

Immediately upon starting the book, I was in love with the author’s voice. She writes with a wry tone that broadens at times into full-on farce and humor. The interplay between Yuri and his counterparts at NASA is fascinatingly displayed, often using a mix of both cultural differences and Yuri’s social awkwardness to best effect. The novel is fast paced and yet not breakneck until the very end where it is entirely warranted and great fun. Yuri in an American high school and then at prom are wonderful moments that show the horrors of American schools but also Yuri as a unique character.

The book works because of Yuri himself and Dovie as well as her family. Yuri is a great character, someone who could initially be seen as Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory and then zigs in a different direction, becoming someone who is kind, friendly and horny too. Dovie and her family are the opposite of “typical” Americans, instead living a hippie lifestyle that is lovingly captured on the page. The addition of Dovie’s brother and his wheelchair is far more than a token gesture and he becomes important in Yuri’s growth and choices.

A richly funny and deeply fascinating book that asks big questions about life and death while making you laugh along the way. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.